With four weeks remaining in the regular season, the playoff races are as tight as ever with 18 different teams holding at least a 25 percent chance to make the postseason, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI). Which team’s playoff chances will be impacted most this week?
With the help of FPI’s playoff leverage calculations, we will break down which teams have the most to gain and lose this week in terms of making the postseason. There may be bigger games in terms of seeding and division winners, but the teams and games highlighted below are the ones that have the biggest impact on each team’s inclusion in the playoffs.
Before digging into the numbers, it’s important to understand how the charts below should be interpreted. The charts depict each team's conditional probability of making the playoffs based on the outcome of their game this week. The entire shaded area (and accompanying percentage) is a team’s “playoff leverage,” which is defined as the difference in playoff probability given a win or a loss.
With the Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans tied atop the AFC South standings, it’s not surprising that Houston’s trip to Indianapolis on Sunday is the game with the largest league-wide playoff impact. If Houston wins, its chances of making the playoffs will rise to about 70 percent. But if the Texans lose, that will drop to about 22 percent. Similarly, the Colts would be the division favorites with a win but would likely be out of contention with a loss, as they would be one game back and lose the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Texans. FPI gives the Colts a 66 percent chance to win at home.
The Baltimore Ravens (at New England), Titans (versus Denver) and Pittsburgh Steelers (at Buffalo) also have huge swing games, but none of those teams have better than a 53 percent chance to win this weekend, per FPI.
As can be seen above, the Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs are pretty safe bets to make the playoffs, but we would be remiss if we didn’t mention the divisional impact of their game on Thursday night. With a victory, the Raiders’ chance of winning the AFC West will rise from 49 percent to about 84 percent. If they lose, their chance of winning the division will fall to about 27 percent, and the Chiefs will have a 65 percent chance to finish as division champs. FPI gives the Chiefs a 61 percent chance to win at Arrowhead.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are tied with the Atlanta Falcons atop the NFC South, but FPI isn’t quite buying into their recent winning streak. The Bucs currently have a 16 percent chance to win the division and a 41 percent chance to make the playoffs, but those odds would increase drastically with a win versus New Orleans on Sunday afternoon. FPI sees that game as a tossup.
Not surprisingly, the teams battling the Bucs for the final wild card spot -- the Washington Redskins, Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers -- all have important games this week to stay in the conversation. Of those teams, Minnesota is the most likely to win this week (61 percent at Jacksonville).